Federal Court in New Jersey denies class certification in overtime case

Novak v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., Case No. 06-4841, 8/27/2009

A U.S. District Court denied a plaintiff’s attempt to certify a class under the New Jersey state wage and hour law.   The plaintiff  claimed that Home Depot misclassified all Merchandising Assistant Store Managers (MASMs) in New Jersey as exempt from overtime.  The plaintiff asserted that the case should be tried as a Rule 23 class because common evidence could establish that every MASM employed in New Jersey was misclassified as a management employee.  The alleged common evidence was found in Home Depot’s own corporate structure and how the company defined the MASM position, including the MASM job description.  Plaintiff focused on standardized procedures, staffing graphs, training and other company documents that are all produced at the Home Depot headquarters to support this argument.

The actual job duties of the MASMs who gave testimony, however, showed that the actual day-to-day duties of a MASM are not as uniform as their common job description would suggest.  The stores themselves vary greatly in size.  This variation impacts responsibilities and duties.  Deponents, for example, stated that supervisory responsibility took as much as 40 hours per week or as little as 2 hours per day.  There were similar variations in the testimony of the MASMs regarding other managerial and non-managerial tasks and duties.  When comparing these differing items of testimony against the New Jersey executive exemption, the Court found that common issues did not predominate and that the exemption status should be based on an individual, case-by-case analysis.

This Court’s opinion is well-reasoned.  This case can be cited to support the argument that an executive misclassification case, dealing with significant variations in plaintiffs’ day-to-day work duties, is not well-suited for class determination. 

Paul L. Bittner, Schottenstein, Zox & Dunn Co., LPA, Columbus, OH

pbittner@szd.com

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